Kenneth LaVan, accused priest, kept working for archdiocese until 2014
Artwork by Martin Ontiveros
As a bishop, Robert Carlson was responsible for sniffing out sexual misconduct. It was February 1985, and he'd just gotten through interviewing Father Kenneth LaVan and a married woman who'd slept with the priest after his repeated and aggressive advances.
She was scared, she said, because he'd begun appearing outside her home and crashed a family trip to the beach. The woman's husband confronted LaVan, and he responded by giving a sermon the following Sunday about those who would not forgive.
In private, he was more direct. As Carlson would later write, LaVan had "mentioned a threat about possibly burning down the house" and murdering her husband. But he was quoted as adding, "I am not that kind of person."
Next came Carlson's recommendation to Archbishop John Roach: "[W]e accept Father LaVan's resignation from the parish, find a suitable cover story and get him into a in-patient treatment program." He urged the archdiocese to act quickly, "so this thing does not blow up."
But blow up, it did. Three decades later, LaVan's personnel file -- more than 1,400 pages in length -- is now in the public domain. It comes to us as part of a lawsuit filed by attorney Jeff Anderson and his minions, who allege that the archdiocese (with the help of the Diocese of Winona) has protected sexual predators.
In a statement, Bishop Andrew Cozzens apologized "for the harm caused by some of our priests." He argued that a lot has changed in recent years, including the church's understanding of mental health and the way it reacts to abuse: "Under today's standards and protocols, if we were to receive similar allegations regarding a priest, police would immediately be notified."
LaVan has been accused of molesting several women (including one who suffered from a brain injury) and at least three girls (including one who had been studying to become a nun). One of those girls reported that the priest cornered her and felt her up and down while kissing madly. Another described for Gary Schoener, a pscyhologist hired by the archdiocese, the way LaVan pinned her to the floor, held her mouth shut, and raped her.
Although Schoener warned, as far back as 1988, that putting LaVan back into ministry was "very risky," that's exactly what the clergy did. After two stints in treatment and two lawsuits, LaVan retired in 1997 but continued to pick up services for vacationing priests.
In 2005, then Vicar General Kevin McDonough wrote to his superior, Archbishop Harry Flynn, seeking advice on what to do with the old boy. There were two options: ask LaVan to leave gracefully or reopen the investigation. Rules implemented in the wake of the Boston sex abuse scandal made it clear that any priest with a single act on his record needed to go.
Flynn came back with a third option: leave it alone. "I do not think we should reopen this case again since it seems to have been closed to the satisfaction of everyone involved," he wrote.
Archbishop John Nienstedt finally stripped LaVan of responsibilities in January 2014, one month after the release of the archdiocese's list of "credibly accused" priests. LaVan was added to that list in March.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.